Dimensions poll of 100 MPs asked if they agreed that almost everyone with learning disabilities is capable of being supported into paid and productive employment – just 40% did.
As Head of Supported Employment at Dimensions, I found the results of this poll very disappointing, with over 60% disagreeing or undecided. This could be a result of not having a full understanding of two things: learning disabilities, and supported employment.
Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. This affects the way they understand information and also how they communicate. This means they can have difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills, and coping independently.
Learning disabilities are often given a specific label that generalise a diagnosis when, in reality, how it affects the individual is very personal and can vary dramatically. This is why we shouldn’t apply labels to people and try to place them in a nice neat box; it gives very unrealistic stereotypes that are then used in publicity, ads and campaigns to raise awareness. This creates a false public image of what a learning disability actually is.
With the right support, people with learning disabilities can achieve their goals and ambitions. Supported employment can help; it’s an evidence-based and personalised approach to supporting people with significant disabilities into real jobs, where they can fulfill their employment aspirations and achieve social and economic inclusion.
The overarching guiding principle of supported employment is that it is designed to support individuals who do not necessarily meet traditional criteria for ‘job readiness’ or ‘employability’. Fundamental to supported employment is the ambition that everyone can work, with the right job and the right support.
The Supported Employment model sees each individual as unique, with their own interests, preferences, conditions and life history.
It helps individuals improve their interests and preferences, express their choices, and define their employment/life plan according to personal and contextual conditions. It helps individuals to understand their opportunities fully so they can make informed choices and decisions about their lifestyle and participation in society. Individuals, families and circles of support are centrally involved in the process. It is responsive to the needs of individuals, and can be adapted to meet specific requirements.
Supported employment is a flexible and continuous process, from getting to know people and employers all the way through to career development and the planned “fade out” of the job coaches who facilitate the whole process. At Dimensions, we know from experience that, with the right support, it is possible for almost anyone with learning disabilities to do a productive job. Work means far more than money and productivity. It means self esteem, confidence and social opportunity. Through these things, it can also result in reductions to support costs.
Regrettably, few local authorities make this connection. Most simply look at the short term costs of supported employment and dismiss it. We urge all local authorities to explore whether or not they should be offering high quality employment support to people with learning disabilities in their area, and we urge people with learning disabilities and their families to put the pressure on.
Dimensions Best practice blog: 24/4/15